General Sessions Court Judge Mike Carter said Monday he did not find there was any malice or criminal intent in damage at the Parker Cemetery in Lookout Valley.
Miles Koger, owner of the 1.4-acre cemetery, and bulldozer operator John Jackson had faced criminal charges after family members said a number of gravestones were wrecked.
Judge Carter, after a half and a half hearing, said it was "not some cowboy going out and wrecking a cemetery."
The judge agreed to go to the cemetery site on Wednesday at 4 p.m. to meet with parties involved to try to work out a solution to provide permanent upkeep.
Mr. Koger, who has owned the cemetery since 1983, has offered to give it to the family group.
Nick Fielder, state archaeologist, said the state will help determine burials.
Steve Daugherty, who has researched the cemetery where some of his relatives are buried, said there are over 100 burials and possibly some are Native American and African American.
Those buried there include the great-uncle and great-aunt of Sen. Bill Frist. He sent a letter of thanks after a crew from Teen Challenge spent five months cleaning the cemetery in 1997.
Mr. Koger said he knew Mr. Jackson because he had done plumbing work for him. He said when he saw he had a small bulldozer and did cemetery work he asked him to clean up Parker Cemetery. He said he paid him $550.
Mr. Koger said he told him, "You know more about it than I do. Clean it up."
Mr. Jackson said he saw few headstones at the overgrown site on a hill behind a feed store near Cummings Highway and Browns Ferry Road. He said he did not believe markers where damaged, though he said he did see one in a pile of brush.
Judge Carter said looking at pictures it appeared the bulldozer driver had worked carefully. He said he came within inches of some headstones that were left standing.
Emma Webb of the county genealogy society said she went to the site in 1997 and it was so overgrown she did not venture into it. She said, "I told Dennis I wasn't going in cause I didn't want no poison oak."
She said she saw only three headstones. She said Dennis Wilson, who heads the genealogy society, did a survey of the site.
The last burial there was in 1946.